WILLIAMSBURG — There were eight members in the Ford’s Colony Pickleball Club when Chuck Deschaine, the co-president, first joined the club back in 2016. Now, in 2022, there are over 375 members.
Deschaine first encountered the sport back in 1999 as a physical education teacher working for George Washington Middle School in Wayne, NJ.
“It[Pickleball] was actually the first game that we taught in school,” said Deschaine in an interview with WYDaily. “The kids really enjoyed it. A lot of people think of Pickleball as being an older person sport but it was actually in the schools much before it was out in the general public.”
Pickleball is played with a special pickleball paddle. It’s smaller in size when compared to a tennis racquet but larger than a ping-pong paddle. The ball itself is similar to a whiffle ball with holes covering the surface. Typical games are played two on two much like in doubles tennis.
The game has been around for a long time. It was invented in 1965 but in the past five years, the game has seen a major upswing in popularity. Especially in the Historic Triangle.
“It’s growing like ridiculously. Pickleburg, which is the club in Williamsburg, has over 875 members,” said Deschaine. “So it is a sport that’s growing, and one of the things that we’re looking for is increased facilities both in Fords Colony and in Williamsburg because when people go down there they usually have to wait to play.”
Deschaine graduated from the College of William & Mary (W&M) before he worked as a teacher in New Jersey. Eventually, he and his wife decided to return to Williamsburg in 2016. That year, he went down to meet the original eight members of the club. He found that they were drawing chalked lines on the tennis court because they didn’t have dedicated pickleball courts, but now there are six Pickleball courts at Ford’s Colony.
“It seems to be the same way over in Veterans Park in Williamsburg. There used to be all tennis courts,” said Deschaine. “Then they were converted to some tennis courts and some pickleball. Now they’re entirely pickleball courts at veterans park.”
The Ford’s Colony Pickleball Club hosts games seven days a week. One session is in the morning and three sessions are in the afternoon. The club has games going on all year round and Deschaine says they have a great turnout. The day before Christmas, there were about 52 people who met up to play Pickleball.
“Honestly, it’s just fun. I tell people all the time when they ask me ‘What’s with this growth in pickleball?’ I tell them, ‘Come down, I’ll put a paddle in your hand, and you’ll understand it,'” said Deschaine. “‘I can’t describe it to you until you get a paddle in your hand and you hit that whiffle ball a couple of times across the net successfully and the other team doesn’t return it.’ You experience success almost instantly because the ball is pretty easy to hit.”
The game is considered a lifelong sport in the same vein as racketball, badminton, and tennis. There are members of the pickleball club as young as 12 years old who may play against another member in their 70’s. Deschaine says everything is kept light-hearted and the social aspect of getting together and having fun is the emphasis of the sport.
“There are people who are really good at the game,” said Deschaine. “There are actually professional pickleball players and there’s even talk of it being in the Olympics.”
Deschaine says that there is an estimated over 2 million pickleball players in the country and that the recent surge in popularity of the sport is simple to explain.
“It’s just fun,” said Deschaine. “It takes five minutes for me to teach someone the game, but I’m still learning aspects of the game after years of playing.”
Deschaine says that the game has been steadily growing in popularity and didn’t stop its growth in 2021 when the pandemic was still relatively new.
“What we did last year was we had small quarantine groups. We would have small groups of people that were like seven or eight people that would schedule a time to play down there. All of them had the same tolerance for being exposed to other people and the virus. It is an outdoor game, and you are pretty far away from people; at least 8 feet away from people,” said Deschaine. “Most of the time you’re playing and during that time a lot of the people who were playing together had the same commitment to not play in a larger group or go to another city and play. Basically, they were committed to playing in the group and to not be dangerous to anybody playing in the group.”
In the last six weeks, the club has run six clinics for new players and has signed up over 48 new players. This just shows that there is still a growing interest in the sport and it seems like that trend will continue in 2022.
For more information about where to play pickleball, locals can head over to the Pickleburg website that shows all the places in Williamsburg where pickleball is available to play, the hours, and even upcoming tournaments.